Archive for March, 2005


This is the weekend of *-*-*-*-a-r-a-m-a. The nice folks at Hormel who manufacture S-*-*-* (rhymes with “ham”) have in the past had their (minor) differences with the sponsors of the Austin traditional event celebrating a certain pork product. The discussions involved use of the S-word.

One of these events is not unlike another of these events. If you’re not a contestant in the cook-off, and even if you are, this is an Austin tradition best enjoyed with friends, friends who share your sense of humor.

This year’s posters are the best ever: the first poster is a fairly generic take on Robert Indiana’s Love poster; the second poster is an excellent and original variation on the Milton Glaser Dylan poster.

So, okay; the legal terms say that you can use the luncheon-meat word and any words or terms containing it if all is entirely capitalized and has a trademark sign. Here goes: SPAMARAMA™ is a trademark of the Hormel Foods Corporation (and so is SPAM™ luncheon meat).

You may have a great recipe and be contemplating a last-minute entry in the cook-off, but you’re too late. According to the entry form, the deadline has passed. These days the Health Department wants to know the recipe ingredients and know them in advance.

Life used to be simpler back before there was much adherence to laws and regulations. I’ve never dared consume any of the cook-off results, but the judges are sincerely to be admired for being brave enough to do so.

Even though the deadline’s passed for the cook-off, there’s still the First Annual Miss SPAMARAMA™ contest, which has money prizes. The rules are not stringent, and each entrant will have three entire minutes in which to perform and enchant, showing off his/her “Looks, Talent and Austiness” no matter what his/her age or gender.

Where there’s smoke

The upcoming May 7 Municipal election will fill three city council seats and bring back the contentious issue of smoking in bars and restaurants. If this seems like d

It’s the little things

7842804_3787189ea0_m.jpgThe H-E-B on Oltorf is finally making its own tortillas. I’ve wondered for a long time why the hell the Hancock Center location had one and we didn’t. I’m just glad we finally got one because these tortillas rock. Grab a rotisserie chicken, some tomatoes, avocados, cheese and some Jardine’s 7J Ranch Campfire Roasted Salsa (also a Texas product, I might add) and you’ve got a quick and tasty dinner.

Open and shut

Deadlines and events kept the fridge and pantry from being stocked. H-E-B is nearly always closed on a major holiday, at least until the early or late evening.

Here’s what the foraging excursion revealed. Despite the moving air, several families were set up to cook in Stacy Park. The parking lot at Luby’s was jammed. We considered returning later if necessary. IHOP was hopping (though we wouldn’t have gone there anyhow). Magnolia had a line. Curra’s had a few people waiting outside. We didn’t pass by Katz’s or Threadgill’s.

It was on to the Taj Palace. At nearly 1:00 pm, the Taj was extremely busy. One entire room was set up for a very large group of adults accompanied by young children. Every time new melon slices were put out at the buffet, the kids got to them first. There was seekh kebab on the buffet, my favorite, and, as lamb, entirely appropriate for the day. The soup had popped mustard seeds in it and lots of vegetables. It was delicious. The dal makhni merited a return visit. People were still arriving as we left, and I think that it was to close at 2:30 pm. This is the new management and ownership, and they plan to be open on all holidays. The label of Kingfisher beer seems to state that it is now bottled in Saratoga, New York, of all places.

The Frisco has always customarily closed for Christmas and Thanksgiving. We thought that Easter was added to these. But we were wrong. As we came by, it was clear that the Frisco was open. Had we known, we’d probably have headed that way. Among the menu items of the day were roast beef and also roast chicken with sausage-and-cornbread dressing. The rush was tapering off. As we parked, we saw three different pie-boxes being carried out the door. We accounted for pie number four, apple.

At the City Market, all check-out lines were in operation. We were able to scoop up some needed rice and a selection of vegetables to go with the asparagus scored at the South Austin Farmers’ Market on Congress. An elderly man was shucking ears of corn in the produce department. By the time he was done, there were very few ears for others to buy. The lime index was five to a dollar. The sound system purveyed a repertory of vintage Motown, mostly. This is among the few places in town where The Villager and NOKOA – The Observer are both to be found.

At the Walgreen’s next door, one young man rang up everybody’s purchases, mostly small. The holiday aisle had been swept nearly bare. By the register were two or three marked-down Easter baskets and a half-dozen or so cream eggs to be had at a deep discount.

Albertson’s markets were open. The pulga over on Elmont was packed with booths and people. Fast Freddy was cutting hair. When we got back home, we could still hear all the bells from the churches and towers across the river. Seldom ever is it quiet enough these days to hear even one set of bells once, even on a Sunday, usually the quietest day of the week.

Cascarones and piñatas

These are busy times for the Piñata Palace, maybe not so busy as during the Christmas season, but close. Every day at this time of year, people come and fill the beds of their pickups with Easter pi&#241atas. A truckload of giant standing rabbits is quite a sight, but I didn’t manage to capture any image of that. The ones under the canopy are mostly those very large rabbits; another favorite seasonal form is that of a basket, with long crepe-paper streamers hanging down. The Palace is having a special on cascarones, those shells filled with confetti for breaking over people’s heads. For those who’d like to make their own cascarones and also support a community-based group, Latina Mami is having a make-it-yourself party and Easter-egg hunt tomorrow.

Sandy plugs Sandy’s and other Austin eateries on Daily Show

As is our habit, my wife and I were watching the Daily Show last night. The guest was Sandra Bullock. She was there to plug Miss Congeniality 2 (feh), but her conversation with Jon Stewart turned to Austin. They both gushed about our fair city and the topic turned to local eateries.

Bullock plugged Salt Lick which they both agreed was great. If you ask me, Cooper’s is hands down the best BBQ around and well worth the extra half-hour drive.

Stewart asked her about an old burger place that everyone recommends in town. She thought for a moment and suggested Sandy’s which I thought was a cool plug, but probably not the one he was trying to remember. I’m guessing he was talking about Hut’s, but then thought it could be Dirty’s, Top Notch, or Hillbert’s. For burger joint atmosphere, I think any of those that I mentioned are worthy. However, I still think the Amarillo burger at Casino El Camino is the best burger in town. Period.

There should be post cards

As a movie fan and as a fan of the golden age of Mexican movies, I hope to stop in at Tesoros downtown to have a look at the actual posters. These will be like those reproduced in Poster Art from the Golden Age of Mexican Cinema (ISBN 0-292-70485, 1997).

La Pe

Ravenous night owls

Our visitors always beg to head for Katz’s (of Never Kloses fame). The line stretches far during breakfast hours on many weekends. Breakfast hours last pretty much until suppertime.

All the portions are generous. The noise-level is high. The glasses of fresh-squeezed juice are filled to the brim. There are those who can’t deal with Katz’s, mostly those who want to moon over a menu for hours. The waitstaff is busy and truly appreciates those who know what they want.

In our case, they usually want extra pickles. They want extra applesauce. They want double orders of potato pancakes. They want turkey sandwiches (there are always plenty examples of the entire bird ready for carving). Some want stuffed cabbage. They want Dr. Brown’s Cel-Ray tonic.

It’s best to go in the middle of the night and when people are really hungry.

Also not to be overlooked is the Magnolia Cafe on South Congress. It’s more of a hang-out than a food place, but that doesn’t mean that there aren’t plenty of people there refueling at almost any hour.

Taco Cabana is quick, and the pico de gallo is usually right up there with the best.

And there are those who swear by Kerbey Lane.

Sam’s is open on the weekend until nearly dawn or until the food runs out. The Washington Post has just published an account of a BBQ tour that includes Sam’s but makes no comment on the mutton other than to mention that it’s there.

South by South Congress: vallenato division

Cerronato will bring its beautiful vallenato and cumbia music to El Sol y La Luna this coming Friday evening, March 18, from 7:30 to 9:30 pm.

This music is both soulful and toe-tapping stuff and there’s no a finer group playing it than Cerronato. The vallenato sound is beginning to influence Tejano music. Even Bobby Pulido has recorded three hit songs in this style. There are samples at the Cerronato website.

The Sun and Moon flourishes in a spot left long empty after the departure of Lee’s Chinese Cafe many years ago. El Sol y La Luna serves serious breakfast all day for those who need it and on weekdays has a good hearty, traditional chicken-and-vegetable caldo, the works in a homemade soup.

HB 789

We interrupt the SXSW-mania for a little PSA…

For those of you that aren’t aware, there’s a bill on its way to the Texas House floor that would make municipal wireless networks illegal. It’s a bill clearly pushed by the telecommunications companies who greedily want the business for themselves. The problem is, and I know this is shocker, they don’t always do what’s best for the community.

I could go into more detail, but Chip and Adina have already put a lot of work into a very useful and informative site that says way more than I possibly could. Take a look at the site and pay special attention if your rep is on the committee considering the bill. Now is the time to tell them what you think of the bill and Chip’s site gives you everything you need to do so.

For those outside Austin, this has already happened in Pennsylvania and is on the agenda in many other states. There are many places where the telecom companies don’t provide access and the muncipalities are stepping up to cover the gap. This bill would make it illegal to do so. Lawrence Lessig has an article in Wired this month on this very issue. Charles Kuffner, an excellent blogger from Houston links that article and has much more than that.

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